Back to Stories

A Cow Elk Crosses The Snake

Sue Cedarholm Goes To the Water And In Darkness Hears The Approach Of Bugling Wapiti

"Elk Crossing The Snake River", a watercolor by Sue Cedarholm
"Elk Crossing The Snake River", a watercolor by Sue Cedarholm
My day begins hiking along the Snake River in the dark. Bear spray at my waist just in case, I am not alone so a bear will probably hear us coming, although we want to be quiet so we don’t scare the elk.

Witnessing the bugling of bull elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is to know one of the great primordial sonic experiences in nature.

We are walking upstream on a single track along the bank. We are hoping to get into place in the willow bushes before sunrise in hopes of photographing elk crossing the river in the mist. The fog is very dense, softening the first light on the horizon. We hear elk bugling in the distance.

There is a little bit of frost on the bushes; you can see your breath.  The hike takes about 15 minutes.  We find our spots hidden among the willows. Now we wait.

The bugling gets closer.

You never know exactly where the elk will cross. The sun has risen higher, a burning ball of light glowing in the fog. The mountains are still hidden, sky blue overhead. A herd of cow elk come to the edge of the riverbank. They are nervous, checking and double check before they are willing to drop down to the water and cross. Something scares them and they run.

We continue to wait.

The sun burns off the fog. Mt. Moran appears in all its glory, pure white from the recent snows. Just when we were ready to pack up and leave, thinking we picked the wrong spot to sit, a lone cow elk wanders along the edge of the dark timber. She appears as if in a dream, barely visible in the thick golden undergrowth. She steps out, looks, walks to the water and crosses, swimming, a silent beauty.
Sue Cedarholm
About Sue Cedarholm

Jackson Hole-based Sue Cedarholm is a multi-media artist—painter, photographer and maker of nature-themed, wearable apparel.  You can find all of the works in her ongoing series at Watercolor Diary.
Increase our impact by sharing this story.